An audacious Graydar took it to his more accomplished foes and carried on Feb. 9 at Gulfstream Park, winning the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) wire-to-wire for Twin Creeks Racing Stable in his first stakes try (VIDEO).
Lightest weighted along with Fast Falcon at 114 pounds in a field of 10 and still eligible for a second-level allowance, the 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song set legitimate early fractions before digging in under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado to hold clear over Bourbon Courage. Take Charge Indy completed the tri with 2-1 favorite Flat Out finishing fourth behind a final time of 1:48.25 for 1 1/8 miles.
"He ran an enormous race," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "We weren't really sure what the pace scenario was. We figured we'd be stalking. Edgar and I talked about it and figured that was Plan A. But the last thing I said leaving the paddock was 'If it works about and you're there...don't take it away.' He beat Ultimate Eagle to the turn... he was laying down serious racehorse fractions. It wasn't like he was walking the dog. He got into a nice, comfortable rhythm."
Graydar ran a quarter in :23.12 and the half in :46.87 while maintaining a one-length lead over Ultimate Eagle, with Take Charge Indy, Csaba, and Flat Out in pursuit. The lightly-raced colt clicked off three-quarters in 1:10.59 and widened his advantage turning for home, three lengths ahead at the top of the stretch. He maintained that margin to the wire despite the late run of Bourbon Courage, running the mile in 1:35.36.
"He broke nice and was very relaxed and happy in the front," Prado said. "He was moving along, but that's the way he runs. We didn't need to go head-to-head with anyone, so we sat right off the lead. Anytime I asked him to pick it up he gave me more so I was very happy with him. I was just hoping he'd be able to hold on to the lead."
Off at odds of 5-1, Graydar returned $13.40, $6.80, and $4.80. Bourbon Courage paid $4.60 and $3.40 while Take Charge Indy returned $4.20. Flat Out, Csaba, Pool Play, Fast Falcon, Ducduc, Citrus Kid, and Ultimate Eagle completed the order of finish.
Ultimate Eagle was pulled up and vanned off after grabbing a quarter and his left front ankle. The Mike Pender trainee was bleeding profusely but sustained no structural damage, according to Zoe Cadman of HRTV.
Graydar made three starts as a sophomore for trainer Todd Pletcher in 2012, breaking his maiden by 8 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream, running second at Belmont Park in September, and winning a Gulfstream allowance by 4 1/4 lengths Dec. 6. The Donn was his first start going two turns and his 2013 debut.
"You see horses win grade I races early in their careers, like 2-year-olds, with not very many starts," Pletcher remarked. "But I'd say it's extremely rare for a horse in his fourth lifetime start against seasoned horses like this to be able to do it. It's a real tribute to the horse. It was fun for us. For these connections we lost a tough head-bob with Mission Impazible in this race (in 2012). It's sweet to get one for them the next year."
Trainers Kellyn Gorder and Pat Byrne were pleased with the efforts of Bourbon Courage and Take Charge Indy as well.
"We were able to get to the position we wanted to and we thought the speed might come back to us a little bit, but Graydar just kept on going," Gorder said. " Our horse tried hard the whole way though and we are very happy with how he performed."
"He broke well," Byrne remarked. "John (Velazquez) said he would have run second if he didn't have to use him as much and could have run a little differently. Hats off to the winner; he's a super nice horse who has a huge career ahead of him. They were all good horses, but we're happy with third. Anytime you can get third in a grade one race it's all good. We just hope we can move forward from here. No plans for him next as of yet. We'll talk with WinStar and go from there."